It’s Here – Daiwa Lexa Line Counter!

By Rob Endsley

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Daiwa’s new Lexa 300 line counter is a compact powerhouse that will put plenty of salmon, steelhead, and tuna in the boat here in the Pacific Northwest. With the Lexa’s buttery smooth Ultimate Tournament Carbon Drag anglers can finesse a big steelhead or walleye on light line or slam the breaks on a running Chinook or albacore. It also makes it a great all around reel for Pacific Northwest guides that make the seasonal switch from salmon and steelhead to walleye.

With 22 pounds of drag you can do just about anything with this reel. Saltwater salmon, ling cod, and tuna suddenly become fair game with this low profile reel.

The Lexa 300 line counter holds 240 pounds of 40 pound braid and is equipped with a  braid-ready spool with cutouts for tying off braid. No more wrapping electrical tape around the spool or backing with monofilament to keep the braid from spinning on the spool.

Most line counters are built with trolling in mind but this one also has Magforce cast control which makes casting a breeze. This makes for quick redeployment of the gear when the bite is on.

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The line counter on the Lexa 300 is centered and the numbers are easy to read. The reel also comes with Daiwa’s “Swept Handle” that places the paddle closer to the rod.

Daiwa also has plans for a Lexa 400 line counter slated for release next year. That reel will very likely end up as mooching reel on my charter boat in Southeast Alaska.

The other nice thing about the new Lexa line counter is that you can find it in both left and right handed versions and two gear ratios, 5.5:1 and 6.3:1.

As of this blog very limited supplies of the new Lexa 300 line counter have been shipped to retailers and you won’t even find it on Daiwa’s website. They will retail at around $199 and expect to see them in stores sometime in early November. Definitely worth the wait!

Rob Endsley
The Outdoor Line
www.theoutdoorline.com

Buoy 10!

Jason Humbly of Pro-Cure with a Buoy 10 King

Jason Humbly of Pro-Cure with a Buoy 10 King

Good bait and perseverance will pay off when it comes to salmon fishing, especially Buoy 10 fishing. It all started the night before our trip as Jason Hambly put a few empty jars into the kitchen sink. He then stuffed them with herring and poured in some rock salt. There was no need for any tap water, frowned upon anyways due to chlorine and fluoride treatments, but instead he filled the jars with Pro-Cure’s Brine ‘n Bite Complete. One jar had Chartreuse-the other three with Natural-but in one of those he added a few droppers of Anise Oil.

Plug Cut Herring cured in Pro-Cure Brine 'n Bite Natural

Plug Cut Herring cured in Pro-Cure Brine ‘n Bite Natural

After a night in the cure it was time to fish. The morning was rough, both in water conditions and in fishing. First heading to the Washington side after launching in Astoria, Oregon we began our troll. Yakima Bait Company’s “Big Al’s Fish Flash” trailing a 16-ounce dropper that we kept close to the sandy bottom. Behind the in-line flasher were those Brine ‘n Bite Complete cured herring-plug cut by Hambly-and rigged on tandem 3/0 hooks.

Early morning calm at Buoy 10

Early morning calm at Buoy 10

The morning was cloudy and the winds calmed for a bit as the tide went slack. For just a little while it was nice out, and calm. But still very few fish being caught. So we motored over to the Oregon side.

Waves and wind kicked up with the tide change while passing cargo ships

Waves and wind kicked up with the tide change while passing cargo ships

Passing anchored cargo ships we started picking up a few bites. My son Ryan got the first fish of the day, a small Chinook but it was perfect for him to reel in.

Ryan Brooks with the first Chinook of the day

Ryan Brooks with the first Chinook of the day

Next up was Dave Dunsterville, a friend from Vancouver, British Columbia. But his fish was a small Tule and back into the Columbia it went.

A small Tule that was tossed back into the Columbia

A small Tule that was tossed back into the Columbia

After a few hours Hambly switched to the Anise scented herring and hooked a giant Chinook. He fought it hard to the boat as Dave was able to get the net under it.

Jason Humbly with a nice Up  River Bright Chinook that fell for Anise Oil infused into the plug cut herring

Jason Humbly with a nice Up River Bright Chinook that fell for Anise Oil infused into the plug cut herring

A couple passes later and finally it was my time to fight a Buoy 10 Chinook, this one also couldn’t resist the Anise in Brine ‘n Bite Natural.

The author and his son with a Buoy 10 Chinook of his own

The author and his son with a Buoy 10 Chinook of his own

We fished for 10 hours and all of our fish came on the second tide change of the day. Most of the other boats had already left the fishing grounds several hours before we even hooked our first fish. Even at the end of the day our herring was still firm and bright. By changing up colors, scents and adding a few additional scents we found what combination was wanted by the fish on this tough conditions day. Good brined bait and perseverance pays off, especially at Buoy 10 where you can be rewarded with a huge Upriver Bright Chinook like Hambly’s.

Having several scents along and good brined herring that last in the turbulent waters of  Buoy 10 leads to success

Having several scents along and good brined herring that last in the turbulent waters of Buoy 10 leads to success

Chelan Falls Summer Kings

Shane Magnuson of Upper Columbia Guide Service on the net-Jason Brooks

Shane Magnuson of Upper Columbia Guide Service on the net-Jason Brooks

Chelan Falls Summer Kings-by Jason Brooks

Summer is heating up and as July keeps rolling along the Chinook keep climbing the fish ladders at the dams along the Columbia River. That is until they hit the cold water being spilled from Lake Chelan. A fairly new fishery for Upper Columbia summer Chinook are fish returning to the net pens located at the base of the outfall from the power plant where water is flushed from a large pipe and a trickle from the Chelan gorge into the warm waters of the Columbia. This area is known as the Chelan Falls fishery.

Summer sunrise at Chelan Falls on the Columbia River-Jason Brooks

Summer sunrise at Chelan Falls on the Columbia River-Jason Brooks

Early morning is without doubt prime time. The summer sun shines very bright here and it seems to turn the bite off along with the heat that goes along with it causing anglers to want to head to the local swimming hole instead of the fishing hole.

Early morning trolling at Chelan Falls-Jason Brooks

Early morning trolling at Chelan Falls-Jason Brooks

Most fish are caught in pre-dawn hours until the sun hits the water around 7:00 in the morning. This is a shallow water fishery with the bottom being around 25 to 30 feet and covered in milfoil. This means the downriggers are set at 15 feet and some elect to use a drop weight system with 4 ounce cannonballs.

Flat-lining plugs such as Brad's Killer Fish 14's in Rotten Banana entice bites-Jason Brooks

Flat-lining plugs such as Brad’s Killer Fish 14’s in Rotten Banana entice bites-Jason Brooks

A standard trolling set up at Chelan Falls is a Mack’s Double D Dodger in silver and green, a 36” to 48” leader of Izorline 30 pound XXX trailing a Brad’s Superbait or Super Cut Plug. Popular colors are Hot Tamale or Lava, but another “new” color that is producing this summer is Rotten Banana in the mini-cut plug. Stuff the baits with canned tuna or herring and soak them heavily with Pro-Cure Super Gel in Anise Bloody Tuna. Since this is a shallow water troll and you are allowed to fish two poles with the endorsement it is beneficial to throw an extra rod out flatling a Brad’s Killer Fish size 14 in the Rotten Banana color.

Brad Wagner of Bobber Down Guide Service with a typical Chelan Falls Upriver Chinook-Brad Wagner photo

Brad Wagner of Bobber Down Guide Service with a typical Chelan Falls Upriver Chinook-Brad Wagner photo

Launch at the County PUD park located just past the Chelan Falls Bridge and then motor back over to the mouth of the Chelan River, trolling the western shoreline all the way back up to the bridge. Make sure to stay a bit out in the channel otherwise you will foul your gear in the milfoil along the shoreline. If you want to learn this fishery there are two premier guides that fish it, Shane Magnuson (509-264-7684 or www.uppercolumbiaguide.com) of Upper Columbia Guide Service who lives in Leavenworth and Brad Wagner (509-670-3095 or www.fishwenatchee.com) of Bobber Down Guide Service out of Wenatchee. Since they live in the area they know this fishery well. In fact I was out trying my best this past weekend and witnessed Shane land 5 fish before 7:00 AM on Saturday. Then I got a message from Brad who let me know that his boat caught 6 Chinook before 6:00 AM today. The key to both guides in that they are on the water early. There is plenty of room to fish and it doesn’t get too crowded.

Englefield Again: Provin’ it!

After our unbelievable first trip to WestCoast Resorts Englefield Bay last year, my son Matt and I could not wait to get back up there. In fact, we were so fired up about our amazing experience that we put a 710 ESPN Listener trip together so we could share the Englefield experience with listeners and friends.

In fact, we’re announcing a second chance trip in late August

Did the trip live up to expectations? Without a doubt it did! Most anglers on the trip had their best chinook days ever in both numbers and size! Bottomfish? How about two ling cod per day with no size restrictions and six in possession! Couple that with two halibut and a pile of rockfish and you are talking new home freezer time!

The WestCoast Resorts Englefield equation for success is solid. Place a floating lodge alone in a remote location accessible only by boat and helicopter.

Oh, the helicopters…C’mon now, aren’t you the least bit intrigued by a fishing trip that begins and ends with a heliopter ride?

Or, more correctly a Helijet which we boarded in Sandspit after our chartered 737 flight from Vancouver, BC.IMG_0880

 

As the lodge comes into view we’re just stunned by the remoteness and beauty of the luxurious, floating lodge at Englefield Bay.IMG_0521 (Medium)

 

Once we’re on the docks the level of organization and experience of the WestCoast Resorts operation is readily apparent. Every boat  is clean, identically rigged and READY!IMG_0536 (Medium)

 

 

The info board is updated daily and hooks you up with weather, tides and hot spots. No secrets here! Since the only boats in the area are from the lodge and fish are plentiful, info is shared freely.IMG_0889

 

After the brief lodge orientation, we jump into our gear and we’re off fishing before noon on our first day!IMG_9100 (Medium)

 

And just how good is the midday chinook bite at Englefield Bay? Well, we only kept three that first day so wouldn’t burn through our four chinook per angler possession limit but we had a double-digit king bite the first afternoon! Simply stated the most smokin’ hot chinook bite I had seen all season which included a three-week stint running my boat in Sitka, Alaska.IMG_0325 (Medium)

 

The next morning, I went out with Chef Patrick Fagan of Bait2Plate.com and my summer on air pard John Martinis. We absolutely STUFFED the fishbox with ling cod, yelloweye, black rockfish and chinook!John&Patrick 

 

The next day? Well, halibut was on the itinerary and we were again very successful but here is the thing that you need to know: Once you’re back at the lodge, the dock staff label, weigh, process and vacuum pack your fish while you relax in the lounge!

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Our final morning, we had our possession limits of bottomfish in the lodge freezer so we got to concentrate on chinook and again, the bite was simply epic! Matt Nelson and John Martinis are working a double which started out as a triple but someone had to take the picture…IMG_0471 (Medium)

 

After the fishing was done, I couldn’t help but take a few pics on the way in to the lodge. The beauty of Haida Gwaii, the Queen Charlotte Islands is well known but this untouched tide pool with a small stream entering it would be an even more fascinating sight in the fall with a few salmon sneaking in when the bears came to feed!IMG_0496 (Medium)

 

The anglers that came along on our Listener trip were very successful and while the fish you take home is not the only way to measure an adventure such as this, it’s interesting to note that the 44 anglers boxed catch weighed over 4500 pounds!IMG_0895

 

The helicopter flight out of the lodge was accompanied with a stitch of sadness but also a feeling of satisfaction for a trip that was thoroughly enjoyed by all.IMG_0553 (Medium)

 

Back at Sandspit Airport, we literally walked off the Helijet and walked right on to the jet to Vancouver where we landed before noon and headed back home over the border.IMG_0623 (Medium)

 

We all played “Horse” on the basketball court when we were kids and after that last shot that hung that “E” on you, the ball was flipped back to your opponent with a defiant “prove it”,

That’s what this trip to Englefield Bay meant to me. After an unbelievable first trip last year highlighted by a tyee for my son and a memorable Father’s Day for all.

WestCoast Resorts has repeated that feat, essentially “proving it” and now Englefield Bay is permanently carved in stone in my annual angling itinerary and I hope you’ll consider making it part of yours.

Tom Nelson
The Outdoor Line
710 ESPN Seattle
www.theoutdoorline.com

The Versatile Drift Boat

by Jason Brooks

If you ask me what is the most versatile watercraft to pursuit salmon and steelhead I would have to say it’s the drift boat. With its distinctive up curved ends and flat bottom designed and built to float in skinny northwest rivers it also handles bigger waters such as mainstream rivers, estuaries, and bays. Add in the fact that they are extremely economical with very little maintenance and it’s no wonder that their popularity is making a huge comeback.

A drift boat is a great way to enjoy a relaxing  day of fishing -Jason Brooks

A drift boat is a great way to enjoy a relaxing day of fishing -Jason Brooks

It all started on the McKenzie River in Oregon, or at least that is the legend of where the drift boat originated. In fact some people still call them McKenzie drifters, or just plain McKenzie boats. First made of wood the early boats proved to be useful for getting down a river. If you hit a rock or damaged the hull you could patch it with some basic hand tools, back when most people actually still used hand tools and made a lot of their own boats. Nowadays with modern fabrications the wooden boat is all but gone, though you can still find them for sale on Craigslist. They are more for nostalgia as wood boats are a bit heavier and tend to not row as easy. So the modern argument for this old design is fiberglass or metal when it comes to hull materials.

Aluminum boats are thought to be "cold" -Jason Brooks

Aluminum boats are thought to be “cold” -Jason Brooks

I see it posted several times on internet forums, usually around the time the Outdoor Trade Shows or Boat Shows start up. Someone will get the itch to buy a drift boat and ask fellow fishers what they should get, a “glass” or metal boat. I sit back and read the replies from the internet experts until I can’t take it anymore and chime in my opinion. I start by saying that if the person who is thinking about buying a drift boat has never rowed one to first take a guided trip. It is well worth the money to see if you really want to invest in one of these boats. This usually leads to my next bit of advice, take it or leave it, but I think anyone who wants to get into their first drift boat should buy a used one. Now, before the advertisers of this site get too mad, I am only advocating this for the first time buyer, as soon enough the person will want to upgrade and look to have a boat manufacturer make a custom boat for them.

The fiberglass boat can be lighter than aluminum -Jason Brooks

The fiberglass boat can be lighter than aluminum -Jason Brooks

Here is my reasons why you should consider used for your first drift boat and why a guided trip is a must prior to the purchase. If you have patience and look at sale sites for any length of time you will find those ads by people who offer up a practically new boat for half the cost. Ones where the person decided to get a drift boat and spent the money only to float a river and find out that rowing can be harder than it looks. Either it scared them to have no control over the fact you have to go down the river, or they were too sore to care to row ever again. Also, drift boats hold up pretty well, even boats that have some road rash or a few dents float just fine. You can find really good deals on boats that are 10 years old or older, and really the design of the boat hasn’t changed in 50 years so age isn’t much of a factor. The main difference between a new boat and a used one are options. When buying used you are stuck with what the previous owner purchased. This can work in your favor as a bare bones boat is lighter and easier to row than one that has lots of bells and whistles.

New boats are nice and once you own a drift boat and become proficient at rowing one you will get the itch to order your own boat. This is mostly because each person is slightly different when it comes to fishing styles. I like to drift fish and float eggs under a bobber, but another buddy of mine likes pulling plugs and throwing hardware. So for me multiple rod holders, bait trays, motor mount, and other accessories are a must. For the guy who likes to pull plugs you want it set up with pole holders, a heater for those cold days where the front passengers are just sitting idle watching the rod tips thump.

Heaters make for a comfortable day when it's cold -Jason Brooks

Heaters make for a comfortable day when it’s cold -Jason Brooks

This brings us back to the argument of “glass” versus metal. I really don’t have a preference but I do own a metal boat and one of my buddies owns a fiberglass boat. Both are great boats and ironically my boat actually floats higher in the water than his does. Most think that the material matters, and to some degree it does, but so does design. His is a 16 foot by 48 inch bottom. Mine is a 16 foot by 54 inch bottom. That extra width at the bottom of the boat is what allows mine to float or draft higher and slip through in shallower waters and makes it react to rowing a bit quicker. His is “warmer” as my metal boat becomes an ice bucket during those early spring steelhead trips.

Being able to row around debris and in skinny water make the drift boat versatile -Jason Brooks

Being able to row around debris and in skinny water make the drift boat versatile -Jason Brooks

Okay, if you just read all of this and are scratching your head at what the heck I am talking about; “how it rows, reacts faster, floats higher”. Here is what drift boaters are talking about. The boat is designed to float with very little displacement, or otherwise known to float high in the water by its flat bottom design. With the stern and bow raised is allows the water to push the boat up as the water flows underneath. As you row backwards you pull the boat up and away from where the bow is pointed. If the boat is heavy or narrow and sits lower in the water there is more drag or resistance and you need to row harder, either faster or by digging you oars deeper into the water. Fiberglass boats are slick and have less coefficient of friction on the bottom because of the materials they are made from. Fiberglass that is coated with a gel coat has very little resistance in the water, where metal boats have tiny grooves or pores which tend to cause more friction in the water. To overcome this metal boat owners put a coating on the bottom of the boat and with new Kevlar materials these coatings can stand up to a few years of use. But they must be up kept, one of the downfalls of a metal boat. Fiberglass boats do wear out and can have soft spots or leaks from hitting rocks or gouges from sliding over gravel bars.

Drift boats require very little maintenance -Jason Brooks

Drift boats require very little maintenance -Jason Brooks

All drift boats have some basic maintenance requirements, but not many. This is another bonus for owning one these boats. If you put a motor on one you must also license it. Keep the motor off and stay away from Federal or navigable waters defined by the Coast Guard and there is no need to license it in Washington (check your local laws). With the motor you can easily fish close to shore in bays and estuaries and also motor up the deep holes and slot in rivers to float them again. But one of my favorite reasons to own this versatile boat is that it is quiet and allows you to really pay attention to fishing and relax while floating down a river.

Jason Brooks
Northwest Outdoor Writer

 

Adventures Without “Reservations”…

My first taste of the annual lower Columbia salmon bonanza known as Buoy 10 was over a decade ago and ever since, the challenge of this huge river mouth fishery has captivated a part of my thoughts and, an increasing part of my fishing plans!

After a season of deep downrigger trolling for chinook –which I love by the way- there is something about a savage shallow water strike from a big king on a short length of braid that is violently refreshing and exciting all at the same time!

The average size of these Columbia River fall chinook and coho is impressive, their fight is inspiring and they perform on the dinner table and in the smoker as well as any fish you’ll find up and down the coast. After reading all that it should come as no surprise that finding a way to comfortably and economically spend some time at this world class fishery is definitely my plan. Options for accommodations are limited and can be expensive on the lower Columbia. I’ve tried the Washington side but I prefer Astoria, Oregon.

Is it because Astoria has the only Starbucks on either side of the lower Columbia? I’ll have to take the Fifth Amendment on that inquiry…

Thankfully, our friends at Roy Robinson Chevrolet RV suggested an alternative to booked motels with no boat parking!

That “alternative” came in the form of a Winnebago Journey diesel pusher and once we hooked up to the ESPN Weldcraft “Great White” didn’t look quite as big as it used to…
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Once we got to Astoria, it wasn’t very tough to get the Winnebago Journey “popped out” and set up so it was time to hit the river!aWin Left (Small)We didn’t know it at the time but this year’s Columbia River Chinook run ended up as the 3rd largest since 1938 and they were in a biting mood!

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When we got back to our “Fish Camp”, vacuuming and freezing was a snap as the Winnebago was hooked up to shore power but the on-board generator would have also handled this with ease!

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The fires in Eastern Washington were apparent in this Western Washington morning as the smoke made for a vivid red sunrise.

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The smoky sunrise didn’t slow down the bite and we had a couple days of double-digit hookups.IMG_0160 (Small)

Eric Jorgensen of Roy Robinson Chevy/RV joined us for a couple days of our Astoria Adventure and was rewarded with solid action and BIG CHINOOK!!!

IMG_0138 (Small)I can’t tell you how great it was to come “home” to comfortable furniture, a warm shower and yes, the built-in washer and dryer in the master bath was not too bad either!

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The lasting lesson from this trip was the flexibility that a motorhome can provide you by towing a boat, small vehicle or an ATV to your vacation location. I had never really considered that a confortable, luxurious Motorhome could be a tow vehicle as well but now I know different! If I had not experienced towing my boat to Astoria from Roy Robinson Chevy/RV in Marysville myself, I never would have believed how comfortable and easy it was. The trip itself was a breeze and i did get a kick out of the looks I got when this 80-foot total rig length went cruising by.

See you on the open road!

Tom Nelson
The Outdoor Line
710 ESPN Seattle
www.theoutdoorline.com

 

Coho Know How!

Last season was a tough one for big coho in local waters but hot on the heels of a large pink salmon run is a very solid showing of chunky coho salmon!

With the Edmonds and Everett Coho Derby looming in the coming weeks, let’s brush up on some silver slaying strategies!

The name of the game is getting a box full of chunky chrome coho!

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One look at the forecasts for Puget Sound coho should make you forget all about the end of summer with over 140,000 headed for the Skagit, 31,000 Stillaguamish silvers, the Snohomish chipping in with over 200,000 and the mid & south Sound totaling over 200,000 more! That’s over 570,000 reasons to get fired up for fall fishing and the upcoming culmination of the Northwest Salmon Derby Series, The Everett Coho Derby.

Robbie Tobeck hoists two chunky coho that would have been a dandy derby day catch!

 

In order to get off to a fast fall start on coho, let’s talk technique & tackle. I tend to view saltwater coho angling in light of chinook techniques. After all, we spend winter, spring and summer targeting chinook and only get a crack at coho in the fall so it’s useful to consider chinook techniques as a “baseline”.

Coho are nothing short of metabolic machines and as such, tend to be interested in smaller offerings trolled faster and shallower than their chinook counterparts. We’ve spent a good part of the summer keeping our gear close to the bottom while running familiar bottom contours. No more! Silvers seemingly avoid structure and have an affinity for the shipping lanes out in the middle of the sound.

Where are the “Shipping Lanes” in Puget Sound? Open up your chart or Navionics Ap, look for the pink shaded areas and the yellow navigational buoys in the center.

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One aspect of successful coho fishing that we need to keep in mind is that we should not have to “scratch” for long periods of time between strikes. Don’t keep grinding for hour after hour without action. Slow periods happen even in the best of days but with the numbers of coho available and their aggressive nature, you should be able to change depths, locations, gear, speed or direction and get it done! Don’t be satisfied with a bite or two!
Quick, morning limits are often the case when the silvers come streaming in!

 

So where do we start our search for silvers?

By looking for Surface activity: Bait jumping, birds working or my personal favorite: tide rips. Generally there is a “dirty side” and a “clean side” of a Puget Sound rip. While trolling, try not to cross the rip and stay on the clean side to minimize gear fouling but don’t feel like you have to “rub” the rip. In other words, if you can clearly see the rip, you’re close enough!

Kevin Gogan and his daughter Hannah were “close enough” to a tide rip for this limit of silvers!

 

To place numbers on the other concepts, start fishing at first light with a cut plug herring six feet behind a blaze orange trolling “kidney” or mooching sinker fished twenty “strips” deep (a two-foot pull of line off of your reel is known as a strip) and run a downrigger 40 feet deep. Keep your speeds in the 2.5 to 3.5 mph speed range which should result in a 45 degree downrigger wire angle assuming you’re using 12 pound Cannonballs. As the light level increases throughout the day, increase your depths and when you hook up, enter a waypoint into your plotter so you can troll back into the school. Silvers tend to mill around and when you find one, there is sure to be more!

Silver Horde’s “Coho Killer” have been a winning piece of gear for not only coho but chinook as well! 

Coho like a very active presentation so shorten up your leaders to the 26-34 inch range behind Luhr Jensen Coyote Flashers and you’re in business!

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Get out there this late summer and enjoy some of the fastest, wildest salmon fishing of the year! Heck, summer isn’t really over…is it????

 

Tom Nelson
The Outdoor Line
710 ESPN Seattle
www.theoutdoorline.com

Sitka 2015: Adjustments

Every year of our annual sojourn to southeast Alaska, I seek a pattern, a clue or a theme to the location and distribution of fish that may lead to an understanding or “edge”, eventually guiding us to a successful season. We’ve all read -with varying degrees of interest and concern- of the changes in sea surface temperatures in the northeastern Pacific Ocean and little did I know when I boarded the plane to Sitka that the ocean temperatures would play a pivotal role in our approach to this world-class fishery.

Most seasons the predominant chinook forage base in the Sitka area is sand lance, commonly known an “needlefish”. Sand lance are a preferred salmonid food item as they are usually abundant, readily preyed upon by chinook, very rich in oil, easily digested due to their delicate structure and can be packed away by an adult chinook like a belly full of spaghetti!!!

Chinook are so fond of sandlance that a large abundance will virtually stop a migration, making these chinook vulnerable to vertical techniques such as mooching and jigging. The problem this season was that the nutrient-poor warm water had in all probability, reduced local zooplankton (euphausiids and copepod) levels, causing the sand lance population to take a downturn. Sand lance do not roam far from their home sand, so are very dependent upon local conditions and poor food availability can quickly lead to a sand lance population crash.

Herring on the other hand are more mobile and opportunistic feeders and therefore have a better ability to adapt to a changing or re-located food base. The preceding paragraph was the longest possible way of stating that herring was the one and only food item found in the chinook we encountered and since the chinook were not all “ganged up” on a sandlance patch, mooching chinook was not the most effective technique.

What was the most effective technique for us?

Why trolling with downriggers of course!

Greg Copeland of KING 5 and my old buddy Phil Michelsen do the downrigger “Dance” with a fiesty, early morning chinook and Sitka 2015 is well underway!

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Phil Michelsen does battle with a big chinook on a misty morning and little would we know….

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 …that this would be the biggest chinook not only of this trip but of the last several years! A beautiful specimen of over 41 pounds! Phil’s grin just says it all!

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Phil and Greg’s last day was a productive, calm and memorable outing and there was alot of work to do after the “photo shoot”!

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Lauren Bivins of Harbor Marine in Everett and my summer “Robbo replacement” co-host John Martinis jumped in for some very solid Sitka success!

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 Lifelong friend Larry Stauffer and I doubled up on a couple chunky chinook that both fell to trolled whole herring. Overall, the average size of the chinook we encountered was larger which was a reverse of a trend of smaller fish over the past several years.

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My biggest halibut of the season was this 70 pounder that we hooked in over 400 feet of water. My Diawa Tanacom 750 electric reel made short work of this flattie!

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 One of Sitka’s signature landmarks, St. Lazarius Island also know as “Bird” Island looks different with every hour of the day. In this afternoon sun it looks spooky…

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…and in the morning sun as the charter fleet runs by it’s merely a milestone along the way. One of the most wonderful things about fish are the places we must go to find them.

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 Brock Huard is in the third season of his Sitka experience and he seems to enjoy it more each and every year. I feel very fortunate to be able to share some of his precious free time in this wonderful place.

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Sitka remains the angling experience of my life and there is something each and every season that stays with me throughout the year. This year it was the ability to make adjustments that stood out. As anglers, we are very good at going to the same places at the same times to use the same gear to catch our fish. However, change one leg of that triangle and we seem to struggle. The ability to observe changing conditions and make adjustments to our game plan is one of the most valuable traits that an angler can possess.

Tom Nelson
The Outdoor Line
710 ESPN Seattle
www.theoutdoorline.com

 

The 2015 Salmon Forecasts!

A sure sign of spring after a long winter is the annual arrival of our salmon forecasts and the “North of Falcon” meetings. I await the salmon forecast numbers like a kid waiting for Christmas morning. Hello, my name is Tom and I am a “salmon sicko”.

After watching the numbers for a number of years (never mind how many…) I’ve found that you can “call some shots” by digging into the forecast numbers. The WDFW, DFO Canada and The PFMC (Pacific Fisheries Management Council) work very hard to get their chinook and coho abundance estimates out in a timely manner. These figures take some pouring through to find the real “meat” but don’t worry, I’ve done all the leg work for you right here!

2015 Selected Preseason adult Chinook Forecasts (in thousands)

Stock                     2009       2010     2011       2012       2013       2014       2015 
Willapa fall               34.8      31.1       36.8        45.2         27.1        32.4        35.1
Hoh fall                     2.6         3.3        2.9           2.7           3.1          2.5         2.5
Nooksack/Sam        23.0      30.3      37.5         44.0        46.5        43.9       38.5

Skagit summer        23.4      13.0      15.9          9.6         13.2        18.3        12.3

Stillaguamish wild    1.0        1.4         1.9          0.9           1.3          1.6          0.5

Snohomish Wild        8.4        9.9         7.4          2.8          3.6          5.2          4.1
Snohomish Hatch     4.9         5.6         5.1         3.9           6.8          5.4         3.2
Tulalip Bay                4.0         3.4         3.5        5.9          10.9          4.7         1.3

S Puget Wild            17.2      12.7        8.9          8.9           5.2          4.8         6.5
S Puget Hatch          93.0      97.4      118.6       95.8       101.9       101.4     91.1

Hood Canal Wild        2.5      2.4           2.1         2.9            3.3          3.5        3.1

Hood Canal Hatch     40.1     42.6         38.3       43.9         65.7        80.6     58.9

Stock total:       255.6k    253.1k    278.9k   266.5k      288.6k      304.3k   257.1k   

This is a mixed selected stock chinook forecast to say the least. Generally these stocks are slightly down with respect to 2014 partially due to changes in the run modeling but also due to unfavorable oceanic conditions. The most concerning stocks are the Stilliaguamish,Cedar and Sammamish wild chinook which will probably be deemed “driver stocks” with regard to crafting our summer chinook opportunities. However, the Skagit & Nooksack/Samish checks in with a solid forecast as well which should drive a very strong Marine Area 7 summer chinook season and an uptick in wild chinook south Sound stocks is certainly cause for optimism.

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The Silver Story! 2015 Preseason Adult Coho Forecasts (in thousands of fish)

Stock                   2009         2010            2011          2012        2013        2014       2015
Straits Wild           20.5          8.5              12.3           12.3       14.8          14.5         13.4
Straits Hatch         7.0            7.8              12.7           18.6       15.4         15.3           8.8
Nook/Sam W        7.0            9.6               29.5           25.2      45.4          20.8         28.1
Nook/Sam H       25.5          36.0               45.7           62.8      49.2          61.7         50.8

Skagit Wild          33.4          95.9             138.1          48.3     137.2        112.4       121.4

Skagit Hatch       11.7            9.5               16.2           14.9       16.3         15.8        19.5

Stilly Wild            13.4           25.9              66.5           45.5        33.1        32.4         31.2

Stilly hatch            0.0              5.4                0.6             4.1          3.1          3.1            0

Snohomish W       67.0           99.4            180.0         109.0     163.8         150        151.5

Snohomish H        53.6           24.5              80.4           80.5      111.6        78.1         53.8

S Sound Wild        53.6          25.3              98.9           43.1       36.0         62.8          63.0

S Sound Hatch   188.8       186.4            173.3         162.9     150.9       172.7         180.2

Hood Wild            48.6          33.2              77.5           73.4       36.8         47.6           61.4

Hood Hatch        52.0          51.2              72.1           62.6       68.6         82.7          108.4

Key stocks tot  338.6k    320.8k        916.0k       628.6k     783.2k    869.2k       891.5k

 

Is this the “new normal”? Ever since the 2011 coho run we’ve been experiencing some absolutely solid coho fishing. The increase in Hood Canal and South Puget Sound stocks alone have me thinking that 2015 will not see many anglers stray far from Puget Sound come September! In fact, the overall feeling among fisheries managers is that barring a repeat of the warm water “blob” of 2014 off the west coast of Vancouver Island, that we should see much improved coho action with some larger “hooknose” entering the catch!

If all this is not enough to get -and keep you- fired up, how about a Frasier River sockeye forecast that’s estimated at 6.8 MILLION with another 345,000 headed for the Columbia! Lake Washington sockeye anglers may have another year to wait with only 164,595 headed for the Ship Canal but a look north to the Baker River gives to 46,200  bright, red reasons to be encouraged compared to the 2014 forecast of only 35,377 Baker River reds.

Let’s not forget our odd, little odd year visitors the pink salmon! How about 6.7 MILLION pinks headed for Puget Sound. Add another 14,500,000 -that’s 14.5 MILLION headed to the Fraser and the humpy “horde” will number about 21 million in the Straits of Juan de Fuca!

Keep in mind that these numbers are but the “raw material” that the co-managers will use to craft our local seasons and only by attending the North of Falcon meetings can you have an impact on the process. We will keep you posted here but I sincerely look forward to meeting some of you….at the meetings!!!

For a schedule of the North of Falcon meetings near you hit WDFW’s North of Falcon page.

Tom Nelson
The Outdoor Line
710 ESPN Seattle
www.theoutdoorline.com

The Four Cornerstones of Winter Chinook Success!

It’s 0640 Saturday morning, we’re between segments on the Radio Show and Rob Endsley’s pen is just flying across his show sheet.

“Well, if you don’t write it, I will…now what is the fourth blackmouth point?” Rob says.

Some of the best “stuff” happens in between segments while the microphones are off and Robbo and I are rippin’ each other but good. However, often the “fertilizer” that flies both ways feeds an idea or concept that leads to an important or instructive point that is “blog-worthy” or, in this case, four points that boil down a whole bunch of winter chinook wisdom into an easy to remember approach.

Cornerstone One: Fish Deep

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After a late summer and fall of easy coho fishing, it’s very tempting to take a laid back approach to winter chinook or “blackmouth” fishing and that is one of the biggest mistakes you can make. Coho or silvers are most often found suspended over deep water while Puget Sound winter chinook are almost always found near structure in a depth band of approximately 80-250 feet of water but generally within 10 feet of the bottom.

While you can enjoy success on silvers without paying strict attention to your boats course or depth, to consistently hook chinook, you have to keep a close eye on both! Despite the fact that I use Cannon’s Bottom Digi-Troll 10’s in Bottom Track mode, to keep your gear within 10 feet of the bottom you must follow the bottom contour –or areas of near equal depth- while at the same time constantly adjusting the depth of the downrigger ball to remain in the strike zone.

Cornerstone Two: Fish Small

HiFly7In the winter we typically find less bait and baitfish individual sizes are at their smallest. I’m sure you’ve heard the term “match the hatch” and that is definitely the best game plan here. Fortunately there are a lot of tackle options that fill the bill. Silver Horde has the Coho Killer, Needlefish Ace-Hi fly and Kingfisher Lite spoons from size 2.0-3.5. With those three items alone you have the ability to mimic bait sizes from 1.5 to nearly four inches! The word “opportunistic” has been used to describe the dietary habits of immature chinook and while they will feed on a wide variety of species, often the best approach is to start small and gather all available information to get dialed in from there.

Cornerstone Three: Fish Fast

evinrudeThe fact of the matter is that in wintertime, there are less baitfish available and fewer fish chasing them than in the summer months and that puts you into a “search mode”. The most effective way to search is to cover water quickly and there is no better way than downrigger trolling to do just that.

However, there is more to fishing fast than just leaning on the throttle. Keeping an eye on current direction and velocity is a great approach to speed up and enhance your fishing efficiency. Chinook tend to face into the current so that feed can be washed into their view and you’ll cover more territory by “riding the tide” as well. Even though your Lowrance or Simrad GPS chartplotter displays a digital speed over ground, the best way to keep track of your speed through the water is to continually monitor the downrigger wire angle and relate that angle to the speed you observe on the GPS display. You’ll find that wire angle increasing when “bucking” or trolling into a tide and that may be an indication that it’s time to change trolling direction!

Cornerstone Four: Fish Near Feed

BairSchoolWinter chinook or “blackmouth” are also refered to as feeder chinook and brother, you had better believe that “findin’ and grindin’” is what they’re all about. When you’re a little fish in a big body of water, one of your best defenses against becoming someone else’s snack is getting bigger so that you fit in less predators mouths. Therefore, fast growth becomes a reproductive and survival advantage to a young chinook and the only way to achieve that growth is to find groceries. So, in turn the smart winter chinook angler needs to find the feed to find the fish and this is where your fishfinder is your very best friend! Learning to correctly operate your sounder, fine tune it’s adjustments and interpret the display will result in a full fishbox. At times, you’ll see larger arcs surrounding a bait ball and that my friend is where you want to stay for a while.

When you consider that there is someplace in Puget Sound to fish for and catch quality chinook all winter long you’ve got to admit that we’re very fortunate indeed to live here! Compared to the Great Lakes that freeze solid and coastal waters that are continually lashed by winter gales, the blackmouth fishery in Puget Sound begins to look very inviting and I hope to see you on the water this winter!

Tom Nelson
The Outdoor Line
710 ESPN Seattle